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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wow
This is a confident and engaging effort from the author, especially considering it is his first book.

In brief summary an Emperor is killed and this is the tale of his two sons and his daughter. The main focus is on the sons, the heir undergoing training as a monk and the other training in an elite military unit.

As I picked this up it felt like a...
Published 8 months ago by Nick Brett

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok or bad?
I had a number of problems with this book, and one of the main ones was to make up my mind as to whether I liked it or not. I also took longer than usual to finish it, which is never a very good sign. The main reason for this is that the book contains a number of features that worked rather well for me, but also almost as many that did not.

Starting with one...
Published 6 months ago by JPS


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wow, 15 Jan 2014
By 
Nick Brett (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
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This is a confident and engaging effort from the author, especially considering it is his first book.

In brief summary an Emperor is killed and this is the tale of his two sons and his daughter. The main focus is on the sons, the heir undergoing training as a monk and the other training in an elite military unit.

As I picked this up it felt like a generic weighty volume of fantasy. The prologue also felt a little heavy and it was with a gentle sigh that I turned the page...into a story that flew off the pages. There were some elements we will have seen before ( a harsh teacher) but you are turning the pages so quickly that you barely notice. The story switches between viewpoints and throws lots of twists and intrigue in there to keep you reading `just one more chapter'. The world building is interesting and the characters work within it. Ancient myths are balanced with a magic by which various powers are leached from a variety of sources by a select and untrusted few. Our threads are mainly one of growth, one of comradeship and one of politics. They all work very well indeed. There is an overarching theme of not knowing who to trust and you really, really want to know `who' and `why'.

Recommended and I am gutted about how long I will have to wait for the next one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok or bad?, 9 Mar 2014
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JPS - See all my reviews
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I had a number of problems with this book, and one of the main ones was to make up my mind as to whether I liked it or not. I also took longer than usual to finish it, which is never a very good sign. The main reason for this is that the book contains a number of features that worked rather well for me, but also almost as many that did not.

Starting with one the later ones, I generally dislike it when the author makes it too obvious that the book is just the first volume of a series. In other terms, this is not a stand-alone book and it ends rather abruptly. Having mentioned this, the author did manage to create a strong sense of suspense throughout the book and it is mainly because of this that I finished it, despite everything else.

Another issue is that the basic plot is not exactly original: leader (here the Emperor, in other books, some kind of King, or Duke - pick your choice!) is killed, falling victim to a bunch of powerful conspirators who then move to hunt down and take out his two sons who are of course far away when the murder happens. This feature has a strong sense of "déjà vu" and appears in numerous other fantasy novels. Also largely "déjà vu" is the reference to half-legendary cruel non-human races who used to dominate the earth and are allegedly extinct but whose heritage remains after a few thousands of years.

While it is not necessarily a problem in itself, it is compounded by the fact that the two sons were sent some eight years before at the two ends of the Empire - one to become a "Ketral", a member of the Empire's equivalent to modern "special forces", and the other, the heir to the throne, to a very remote monastery high up in the mountains, also to learn some special skills. The author tries to explain this by mentioning at some point a kidnapping of the two boys when they were only four years old. The explanation is somewhat unconvincing. If their security is so much at stake, sending them off on their one to places thousands of leagues away from their father to learn some arcane skills that supposedly cannot be thought in the capital seems like a rather strange way to guarantee it.

Then there are the trainings themselves. In both cases, I found them rather unbelievable, with the respective ordeals that the boys go through being quite excessive. Regardless of whether any princes would realistically be treated in such - highly unlikely - ways, some of the treatments seemed designed to kill the pupils, or at least make them fail, more than anything else. I will not go into details to avoid spoilers, but the Ketral training seemed particularly "over the top" at times while burying the heir to the throne and leaving him in his hole for days without food or water seemed somewhat unnecessary.

The treatment of the female characters was also somewhat odd and inconsistent. While I am not quite sure I agree with another reviewer who found that the book expressed misogyny and sadistic features, it is a bit strange to note that the Emperor felt obliged to exile his two sons far away so that they would acquire "special skills" but did not bother doing the same with his daughter and kept her at his side. It is also rather unlikely that any of the courtiers or any of the high priests would have dared treat an imperial princess with the kind of lack of respect shown in the book.

Another bit that was somewhat inconsistent was about the Aedolan Guard. These are the Emperor's elite bodyguards, yet they seem to die a bit too easily both at the beginning of the book, where one of the sons finds a boat full of corpses, and at the end, when they get killed by the dozen, although by ultra-skilled enemies. Another potentially inconsistent feature is the absence of any qualms when they are tasked with murdering the Imperial family, especially coming from those who are supposed to be the most loyal.

A final disappointment was that there was not much "world-building" in this volume. To be fair, however, a remote monastery up in the mountain and a no less remote base on an archipelago of far-away islands do not lend themselves very well to this. Despite this, the author could have, for instance, shown us much more of Annur, the imperial capital and the palace, through the eyes of Adare, the Emperor's daughter.

I hesitated between two and three stars, but will finally settle for a somewhat generous three stars, mainly because there is some suspense to the story and because, despite all of my misgivings, the author has managed to make me want to read his second instalment. I hope I will like it more than this one...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Two Men and Ignore a Lady, 10 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
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It may just be me getting old, but the thought of reading another coming of age book just does not appeal anymore. Imagine my worry then that part one of a new trilogy ‘The Emperor’s Blades’ by Brian Staveley has three separate stories, two of which are about coming of age and one that is mostly ignored. In the Annurian Empire the Emperor rules with a just hand. He has sent out his two sons to develop into men; one is a monk learning inner peace, the other is an assassin, learning outer kill. Oh, and he has a daughter too, but she is mostly ignored.

‘Blades’ certainly has some fun elements. The prologue for one is very interesting and introduces a race of immortal beings who have just starting to give birth to children who have the rot, or as we like to call it – age. Unfortunately, this element of the book remains undeveloped until towards the end and will probably feature far more prominently in future books. Instead we are left with the adventures of Kaden, Valyn and Adare. The stories of the two boys are well developed, if a little juvenile literature at times, but both of them annoyed me slightly. They are both learning to control themselves, but even after 8 years they run incessant internal monologues. If you are being trained to be the best of killers, soppiness would not be tolerated.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of the book is the almost complete disregard for the character of Adare. She remains at home and as the eldest should be the next Emperor, but her gender means this will never happen. Staveley has ripe opportunity to explore this and Adare’s role in the major city would have been a welcome respite from the grim surroundings of the lads. However, she is side-lined almost completely. ‘Blades’ is a fun enough read, but not enough of interest really happens to capture the imagination, it does feel like a slightly slow book one of a trilogy. As a slice of fantasy fiction, it is reasonable, but does not stand out.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Murder, blood, and a bit of magic..., 20 Feb 2014
By 
Christopher Meadows (York, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
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Staveley has produced a highly competent debut here, which hits a lot of good notes as part of the “gritty fantasy” sub-genre.
The world, broadly speaking, is quite well realised. The geography of the areas that the protagonists inhabit is well described, and well defined. There’s a nice mix of icy crags, urban sprawl and tropical islands, and the author manages to evoke each reasonably well – though the city setting doesn’t get as much time as the other two, which is a shame, as it would have helped to bring some of the action within that environment more fully to life.

The social terrain is a little fuzzier, but the author has clearly put in a degree of effort here. Each of the protagonists is in a different part of the world (as above), and we’re given three different micro-societies as a result. There are the monks seeking to empty themselves of self, in the aforementioned mountains. The tropical island is populated by the equivalent of a special forces training camp. And the city segments open up the world of palace intrigue.

As with the geography, the city sections suffer in comparison to the other two. The alpine monks have a well realised set of goals and social mores (some of which are rather surprising). The military teams are driven by camaraderie and competition, and the delineation of relationships around a team dynamic is well done. The city piece, which had the potential to be the most complex, dealing with the intrigue and plotting after an Imperial demise, pushes out a functional society, which looks interesting, but really doesn’t get enough time on the page.

The characters themselves have similar issues. Following the death of an Emperor, the reader is provided with his three teen-age-ish children, two brothers and a sister, as protagonists. One brother is on retreat with the aforementioned monks in their alpine retreat. One brother is training to be part of the equivalent of the SAS. And the sister is in the city. The two male protagonists get a lot of time on the page, and are quite readable. There’s some character growth over the course of the page, but really the majority of the work is defining their characters, and showing their responses to events around them. The female lead, however, whilst interesting, is criminally underrepresented, and clearly needs more ‘screen time’ to be interesting That said, all three are believable as characters, it’s just a shame more room wasn’t available to explore them.

The plot on each front is competently executed. There’s some nice mystery on each front, and the result of at least one of those was rather surprising (to me, anyway!). It takes a while for the plot strands to really get going, but somewhere around the first third of the book, it really starts to rattle along, and becomes very hard to put down.

Overall, this was a very good read, and I’m looking forward to the sequel; it’s well written, the characters are three-dimensional, if not as fully explored as I’d like, and the world they live in is interesting and well realised. Well worth a look.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Derivative but enjoyable, 22 Feb 2014
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PJ Rankine (Wallington, Surrey United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
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This opening episode of what is likely to be quite a saga follows the three children of a murdered Emperor as they discover what has happened and will lead to their destiny. In that way there are three distinct threads that alternate between the chapters and will ultimately combine at some point. The oldest child; Adare, is a woman and so can never become Emperor but her late father has elevated her to the position of a minister and she lives in the capitol amidst the fallout of his murder and the machinations of state. The middle child; Valyn, doesn't have the golden eyes of the Imperial line and so cannot accede either. He is tucked away on a remote island training to be a ninja who rides into battle beneath a giant kestrel. Kaden, the only heir to the throne, is tucked away in a Spartan monastery learning about life as a monk to prevent him for his biggest challenge yet.
I found one of the threads drew me in. one was okay and the other I couldn't care about, I won't influence you by saying which.
This book is very well written but there was nothing I haven't read before and I did struggle to get through it at times. Stick with it because it does get better.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Harry Potter and the Game of Ender. Oh, and a woman does some stuff too. A bit., 16 Feb 2014
By 
R. M. Lindley - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
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Don't get me wrong - this is a very good debut. The story begins with the death of an emperor and focuses on his 3 children.

Kaden is the oldest, and his story is like an R rated Harry Potter as he lives in a monastery fully of seemingly sadistic monks who strive to feel an absence of emotion. This is an interesting concept and reminded me at times of the earlier Scott Bakker books.

Valyn, the younger son, has been sent off to join an elite fighting corps. His segments reminded me of the Battle School in Ender's Game. It is here that we get the best characterization from the various members of his team and the intrigue surroing a series of murders is also handled well.

My main quibble comes with the third stand, which is about the Emperor's daughter, Adare. This receives much less attention and in some ways feels like an afterthought. And you'll never guess who the silly girl goes and falls for - women. eh?

So, because the Emperor's Blades is well written, tightly paced and builds to a very nice conclusion, with an interesting unfolding secret history, the atrocious handling of Adare only loses one star. But the whole novel (almost 500 pages) manages to fail the Bechdel test, which was barely acceptable for the Lord of the Rings but unforgivable nowadays. Hopefully this will improve in subsequent novels.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Traditional epic fantasy in an updated version, 27 Jan 2014
This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
One of the ARCs being given away at World Fantasy last year was Brian Staveley's The Emperor's Blades. I'd seen some talk about it and it looked interesting - epic fantasy is always of interest - so I snagged myself a copy, deciding to save reading it till closer to publication. In the meantime, I'd heard lots of bloggers I respected say good things about the book and I found myself looking forward to starting the book to see whether I'd enjoy it as much as they did. The answer is yes, yes I did.

The book is told through three strands, one for each of the titular Emperor's children: Kaden, Valyn, and Adare. Kaden is the heir, by dint of his inheriting the imperial fiery eyes and his gender, even though Adare is technically the eldest. All three are very different people, made more so due to the differences in their rearing. Kaden was sent early on to be raised by the Shins, an ascetic order of monks that reveres the Blank God. His world has been limited and bare and his training has been cerebral and one of learning to deny the self. In almost complete opposition to this, Valyn was trained to become part of the Kettral, elite and merciless mercenaries, living a life where survival means winning and where combat and physical strength are key. Valyn was taught to be a leader, to lead a wing and command, while Kaden was to be taught how to be emperor after his time with the monks. Adare was raised at the palace and unlike her brothers she was raised not to lead, but to administer, to become Minister of Finance to the Empire and at the same time, her sex means she'll never rise above that station; she can't sit the throne and she has to marry for the good of the Empire, not for love, as is often the case for those of royal descent, especially women.

I liked all of the narrative strands, but Valyn's was my favourite. I tend to have a weakness for his sort of military training narrative and his story is at once exciting and horrifying. He's also a very sympathetic character, one who tries to adhere to his beliefs and values in an environment where not all of them are seen as positive. The boys' sections outweighed Adare's chapter, though that might be because they are less constrained and in the more action-heavy areas of the narrative. Still even in her smaller number of chapters she becomes a well-rounded character, smart, tough-as-nails, her father's daughter in many ways and I really liked her as a character. I had a far harder time connecting to Kaden, who at first is rather strange, mostly due the outlook on life that has been ingrained into him by his education with the monks. But he honestly grew on me and by the end of the book I was genuinely rooting for him as well.

I liked the way Staveley treated his women, or rather how he challenged his male characters' reaction and treatment of women. Most of his female characters have agency, even those who are circumscribed in their actions, such as Adare. While he does at times write from a male gaze, when his characters, especially Valyn, treat their female companions like they might be less competent or more in need of protection due to their sex, they get called on it, more often than not by the women themselves. This happens quite often between Valyn and his best friend Lin, who calls out Valyn and their friends time and again and even gets Valyn to be aware of his behaviour without her prompting. Also Adare breaks out of the mould by not only becoming a Minister in the Emperor's council, but by demanding justice for her father - loudly, I might add - and taking an active hand in obtaining it when it turns out to be the only way. And she takes the lead in her relationship with Ran il Tornja, something which felt boundary-breaking for a woman in her situation.

All of this is set against the background of a really interesting world. The Emperor's Blades is epic fantasy by the book, but certainly not by rote. There is a lot that is familiar in the world, but it is done well and in some cases with an interesting twist. I loved the Kettral, both the mercenary company and the giant birds of the same name that serve as their transportation. Staveley creates an interesting religious spectrum, in which the Shin are developed the most clearly and I found their beliefs fascinating, if rather harsh. Similarly, the mystery surrounding the Csestriim and the Nevariim is quite interesting and while the reader is given some history on the former, I hope we'll learn more about the latter in the future.

The Emperor's Blades is an interesting and enjoyable start to the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne and if this is only Staveley's first novel I'm excited to see how he'll grow into his craft. If you love traditional epic fantasy, but would like to see a more updated version then The Emperor's Blades is a book you'll want to read. I am looking forward to reuniting with the siblings and seeing where their story takes them next in the second book The Providence of Fire.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best fantasy that I have read in years, 8 Jan 2014
By 
Peter Miller (Sudbury, Suffolk United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
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This seems to be the author's first book and what a brilliant debut it is. I have not read such an excellent fantasy novel for years.
The Emperor has been assassinated. His daughter Adare is the Minister of Finance. The heir to the throne Kaden has been under training with monks in a very remote mountain region for eight years. His other son Valyn,has spent the same length of time training as a mercenary on a remote island. Then the attempts on their lives starts. You can get all this from the blurb. I won't give any spoilers.
I will say that the action is brilliant; the intrigues will have you guessing. The story leads one on through each stage with increasing tension and excitement.
The characters are all likeable, well, those that you are meant to like, they are strong but with human frailties.
The magic is there but subtle and clever. IT is quite unusual and the "leaches" or magic users draw their power from sources that are specific to them.
The story builds with plots starting to be revealed and tension rising. In fact we do not hear too much from Adare although what we do see is vital and shows her strength, especially at the end when her toughness and strength really show.
Kaden spends most of his time under training but here his side of the story starts with a mysterious and gruesome discovery and builds steadily.
Vanyl's story is probably the most active and again builds steadily from crisis to mystery and explosive action.
I can't fault this book and my only regret is that it will be a long wait for the next one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, 7 July 2014
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I have thoroughly enjoyed this book and can't wait for the next part. I thought the characters were very believable and the locations harsh . Please write faster.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good first effort, 28 Jun 2014
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M. K. Burton - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
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the emperor's bladesThe Emperor has been murdered, dead far before he planned to be. His heir, Kaden, is far away, learning to be a monk, not yet ready to take on the mantle of imperial rule. His second son, Valyn, is still in training to become one of the empire's most deadly fighters. Only his daughter Adare is in the capital. Though her father has granted her the position of Minister of Finance, she still isn't as powerful as either of her brothers could be, and must navigate the tricky waters of court politics while trying to bring her father's murderer to justice. Meanwhile the lives of Kaden and Valyn are in danger and both brothers must confront their own problems before they can even begin to start on the empire's.

This book, which is an ARC, makes the claim on the back that "fantasy has never been more popular". While I've been a fan of fantasy for most of my life, I think I'd agree with its assertion. Game of Thrones has taken over the imagination of many people and, although I like the books a lot less than I once did, I like that it's becoming less of a stigma to enjoy fantasy and science fiction. The Emperor's Blades isn't quite up to the standards of the masters who have gotten us this far, like Robin Hobb or George R.R. Martin, but is certainly a big step in the right direction for its author.

The narrative is balanced between the three children, although they are all mostly grown. I think Kaden and Valyn were given more page time than Adare, but I personally found Adare's part of the story most interesting. She's the one who actually has to figure out what is going on, while her brothers are more impacted by related events. And her part of the story had the one moment where I think my mouth actually gaped open in surprise, although both boys have interesting stories, too.

For me the book started off slowly. I no longer read much epic fantasy and I've found that this sometimes means I am a little slower on the uptake as I try to learn who each character is, what their backstory is, and how it all relates together. It really picks up in the second half though because all three characters start sensing that something is going on. Neither of the boys know their father is dead for a good portion of the beginning of the story, but both sense that something is wrong in the way that others behave and how events fall out. Once those events and conspiracies start to come together, everything ties in and gets much more exciting.

The magic system in the book is particularly interesting as well. Magic has a very strong stigma against it and those who practice it are called leaches, because they must leach their power from something in their environment. The magic itself is slippery and mainly seems to involve changing the environment just slightly, enough to throw enemies off balance but only sometimes to cause big, cataclysmic events. It's an intriguing enough concept but wasn't developed enough for me.

I did think the book was lacking in some areas. Like I mentioned above, I didn't think Adare had enough page time; there is far more potential around exploring her story and I hope that Staveley lets her shine in the rest of the series. I also felt that the world-building was a bit weak and confusing; most of it seems to come about through telling, especially one particularly long diatribe to Kaden, because the main characters stay more or less in the same relatively boring places throughout the entire book. The capital, where Adare is located, had the most potential, but was again not really explored. Amazing world-building really adds an extra dimension onto a fantasy novel and it was missing here.

In any case, I did feel The Emperor's Blades was a solid debut and, if the next volumes address some of the lacks in this one, has a lot of potential for a great series. I'll be giving the next one a try.
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The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One
The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One by Brian Staveley (Hardcover - 16 Jan 2014)
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